Metro-east residents will have plenty of eagle-watching opportunities this winter, but Eagle Days on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge won't be one of them.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Trailnet canceled the 18th annual festival.
"Due to a decrease in external funding, we will have no public days this year," said Josie McDonald, Trailnet's director of communication and marketing. "We lost a couple of big (sponsors)."
The agencies are going ahead with eagle education programs for schoolchildren this month and may bring back Eagle Days next year if money is available.
The 1-mile-long bridge is a good eagle-watching platform because of its proximity to a chain of rocks across the Mississippi, where the birds can fish in unfrozen, churned-up water.
The two-day festival, which normally took place during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, included live eagle demonstrations, historical re-enactors, a warming tent and spotting scopes. It drew 2,000 to 10,000 people, depending on weather.
"We're going to hang a big banner at the bridge, which will show a couple of websites with other eagle-watching opportunities," McDonald said. "And, of course, the bridge will be open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic during daylight hours."
Nest back on reality TV
Eagle-related news is brighter at Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton. A live video feed from a nest in Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge is up and running after being down for nine months.
"We don't know for sure, but we think (the camera) may have been hit by lightning," said park interpreter Scott Isringhausen.
Technicians installed a new camera and wiring. Images from the nest reappeared on a TV monitor in the park's visitor center about three weeks ago.
The mating pair of eagles have been observed carrying sticks and limbs to the nest, presumably preparing for their third year of egg laying. That's great news for Isringhausen.
"(The video) draws a lot of attention," he said. "There are people who come in every week to check on the eagles."
Migration on the upswing
American bald eagles start their migration south from Canada and the Great Lakes in November and December, when waterways freeze and impede fishing. They stay a few months in Madison, Jersey and Calhoun counties.
Eagle-watching has become a major activity along the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers. Tourists use binoculars and spotting scopes to see them perching in trees, soaring through the air and swooping down to catch fish.
Isringhausen leads Eagle Viewing Programs, which include driving tours along the Illinois River. Groups in December saw 20 to 25 eagles a day.
"That's pretty good for this time of year," Isringhausen said. "I think the numbers will keep building. January and February are the two best months for eagle-watching."
Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau compiles statistics on eagle sightings from throughout the region and posts them at www.visitalton.com/eaglecount.
"A representative of Two Rivers Wildlife Refuge told me they spotted 126 eagles in (one week), which is quite a few," said Jong Cambron, the bureau's public relations director.
Here are some other eagle-watching activities open to metro-east residents this season:
Pere Marquette State Park: Isringhausen will lead Eagle Viewing Programs on Jan. 9, 16, 19, 20, 27, 28, 29 and 30; Feb. 3, 6, 9, 10, 13, 16, 19, 25 and 27; and March 5 and 6.
Groups meet at the visitor's center at 8:30 a.m. They watch a short video, load into cars, cross the Illinois River on the Brussels Ferry, take an observational drive with stops in Two Rivers Wildlife Refuge, eat lunch in Hardin and return at 3 or 3:30 p.m.
Tours are limited to 50 people. Thirteen can ride in a van with Isringhausen, and the rest follow in vehicles. There is no charge, but reservations are required. For more information, call 618-786-3323.
Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau: The bureau will sponsor the second annual Alton Eagle Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at two locations.
People can view eagles through spotting scopes and talk to experts at The Audubon Center at Riverlands at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Mo. Or they can go to an Ice Block Party off Third Street in downtown Alton with ice-carving demonstrations and a giant eagle's nest.
"One of the ice-carving displays will be an ice putt-putt, so people will have a chance to sink a hole-in-one and win a prize," Cambron said.
The bureau also will host Eagle Meet and Greets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 12, 19 and 26 at 200 Piasa St. A World Bird Sanctuary representative will display a live eagle.
Free eagle-watching guides and an updated Audubon Bird Watching mobile app also are available. For more information, call 618-465-6676 or 800-258-6645.
Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower: The tower in Hartford will host Eagles Over the Confluence programs on Saturdays in January and February.
These include a Live Ice Carving Demonstration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 12; Eagle Photo Workshops at noon and 1 p.m. Jan. 19; Birds of Prey Display from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 26; Itchy Brother's Chainsaw Woodcarving from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 2; Native American Tribute to the Bald Eagle from noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 9 with dances on the hour; repeats of Eagle Photo Workshops at noon and 1 p.m. Feb. 16; and Live Eagle Display from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 23. Programs are free.
Visitors also can rent binoculars and view eagles from the tower's viewing platforms. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to p.m. Sundays. Tour prices are $4 for adults and $2 for children 12 and younger. For more information, call 618-251-9101.
National Great Rivers Museum: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will present its annual Masters of the Sky program three times a day Feb. 16-18 at the Alton museum. It includes demonstrations with live eagles and other birds of prey from the World Bird Sanctuary.
Sessions begin at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. with a limit of 200 people for each. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children (free for 3 and younger).
The museum also offers tours that allow people to view eagles from the top of the dam. An indoor bird-watching area with spotting scopes is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free. For more information, call 618-462-6979.
The Audubon Center at Riverlands: The center at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Mo., is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Audubon Society.
Beyond the Alton Eagle Festival, the center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Visitors can use indoor spotting scopes to view eagles and see bird exhibits.
Eagle Meet and Greets with live eagles from the World Bird Sanctuary will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday in January and Feb. 5 and 12. Admission is free. For more information, call the Rivers Project Office at 636-899-2600.
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area: The Missouri Department of Conservation will host a program called Scoping Out Raptors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 at the conservation area, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Wildlife experts will provide information on several birds of prey, ranging from kestrels to eagles. Scopes will be set up at the Confluence Platform, near parking lot N. No reservations required.
The conservation area also will host a beginner photography course from 8 to 10 a.m. Jan. 20 for ages 15 and up. Students will practice photographing wildlife, including eagles. Reservations can be made starting Saturday. Call 314-877-6014 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Columbia Bottom is 3 miles north of the Interstate 270 Riverview exit on Columbia Bottom Road. The area is open daily from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset for individual eagle watching. For more information, visit mdc.mo.gov/regions/st-louis/columbia-bottom.
Bluff City Tours: Bluff City is offering two types of eagle watching in the Alton area, including 75-minute trolley bus tours that cost $8 for adults and $6 for students.
Trolleys will leave Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Jan. 12, 19 and 26. Reservations are encouraged.
A Day in Eagle Country tours spread out the fun. Trolleys or motorcoaches will leave Alton Square mall at 8:30 a.m. and will return at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Jan. 9, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26 and 30 and Feb. 2, 6, 9, 13 and 26.
The $60 cost includes tour guide, continental breakfast and lunch at Pere Marquette State Park Lodge. People are encouraged to dress warmly and bring binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras. Reservations are required. For more information, call 618-466-8693 or visit www.bluffcitytours.com.
Real American Experiences: This private St. Louis company will sponsor an eagle-watching day trip Jan. 26 with stops in Missouri and Illinois and a chicken or roast beef lunch at Pere Marquette State Park Lodge.
A bus will depart from 4666 Lansdowne in South St. Louis at 8:30 a.m. and will return at 5:15 p.m. Times are 9:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for North St. Louis County pickup and drop-off.
The non-refundable fare is $69. For more information, call 314-752-3148 or visit www.aar-therailroaders.org.